Earth core's mysterious new layer formed due to surface water diving deep: Study - Hindustan Times
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Earth core's mysterious new layer formed due to surface water diving deep: Study

Nov 20, 2023 11:27 PM IST

Earth comprises four primary layers: an inner core at the planet's center, surrounded by the outer core, mantle, and crust.

The formation of new enigmatic layer – E prime layer – at the outermost part of Earth's core is a result of "surface water penetrating deep into the planet," altering the composition of the metallic liquid core's outermost region, a study by an international team of researchers, including those from Arizona State University (ASU) revealed.

The researchers said that this discovery enhances our comprehension of Earth's internal mechanisms. (Representational Image)(Getty Images/iStockphoto )
The researchers said that this discovery enhances our comprehension of Earth's internal mechanisms. (Representational Image)(Getty Images/iStockphoto )

Earth comprises four primary layers: an inner core at the planet's center, surrounded by the outer core, mantle, and crust.

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Citing a published paper from Nature Geoscience, an ASU researcher said that for years it was believed that a material exchange between the core and mantle is small. But the experiments revealed that when water reaches the core-mantle boundary, it reacts with silicon in the core, forming silica.

How did this layer develop over time?

-This latest research suggests that tectonic plates carrying surface water have transported it deep into the Earth over billions of years. Upon reaching the core-mantle boundary about 1,800 miles below the surface, this water initiates significant chemical changes, influencing the core's structure.

-Scientists at ASU along with Yong Jae Lee from Yonsei University in South Korea, have observed that subducted water reacts chemically with core materials under high pressure.

-This reaction leads to the formation of a hydrogen-rich, silicon-depleted layer at the outer core, resembling a film-like structure.

Illustration of silica crystals coming out from the liquid metal of the Earth's outer core due to a water-induced chemical reaction. (Dan Shim/ASU)
Illustration of silica crystals coming out from the liquid metal of the Earth's outer core due to a water-induced chemical reaction. (Dan Shim/ASU)

-Silica crystals generated by this process ascend and blend into the mantle, impacting the overall composition.

-These modifications in the liquid metallic layer could potentially result in reduced density and altered seismic characteristics, aligning with anomalies detected by seismologists.

How can this research help in understanding Earth more?

The researchers further said that this discovery enhances our comprehension of Earth's internal mechanisms, indicating a broader and more intricate global water cycle than previously acknowledged. The transformed layer in the core holds significant implications for the interconnected geochemical processes linking surface water cycles with the deep metallic core.

An international group of geoscientists conducted this research, employing sophisticated experimental methods at the Advanced Photon Source of Argonne National Lab and PETRA III of Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron in Germany. These techniques aimed to recreate the extreme conditions observed at the core-mantle boundary.

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